Looking Back on 2017
As the year draws to a close, I often look back on my time in the Legislature and think of decisions that have an effect on our families and our neighborhoods.
It’s Time for a Hard Look at How We Pay for Schools
“It’s important, every so many years, we take a good look at how we fund schools,” said Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). “How do we … make sure our schools have what they need for the next 20 to 50 years.”
Emergency Medical Workers in New Community Role
“We had a patient who called us at least once a week,” a local Emergency Medical Director told me. “We took him to the hospital, but, what if we could take care of him at home.”
Free Tuition for Two-Year and Tech Colleges Means Freedom to Learn
“Every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school… To be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries,” wrote researchers at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) eight years ago.
Confusing Health Coverage Dominates Thanksgiving Conversations
“My family conversations over Thanksgiving were all about health care,” Mary shared with me. “It’s all so confusing.”
The Zen of Deer Hunting
Sitting alone in the fog. Blending in with the grass and trees. Don’t move. Just listen. Breathe.
“Faces of Addiction and Recovery” Came to the Capitol
The day was busy. Filled with bills voted on by Senators. Bills that, someday, will change people’s lives for better or worse. Senators do not often see the faces of those whose lives changed.
Speed and Secrecy Leaves the Public Out in the Cold
In the past eleven years, I wrote 64 times about the problems of speed and secrecy in the legislative process. However, I never saw a calendar as broad and deep in controversy as the most recent one before the State Senate.
WEDC Admits They Are Not Following the Law
“We have not been able to verify the jobs,” said Secretary Mark Hogan at a recent public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit.
WEDC’s History Raises Concerns about State’s Ability to Oversee Foxconn Deal
“Can you find out the nuclear flaw in the Foxconn deal?” a woman asked me. She was referring to words leaked out of secret negotiations between the state and a Taiwanese billionaire.
Audit Committee Focused on Protecting Veterans’ Care at King
For 130 years, Wisconsin provided care for our aging veterans. Our state committed resources to build a beautiful campus on the Chain O’ Lakes. Known as the Veterans Home at King, the home gives veterans and their families a picturesque retirement.
Hemp: Its Time Has Come
Farmers in diverse states like Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine and Minnesota are researching a new crop: industrial hemp. Many states are changing laws to allow growing of hemp.
Proposal to De-license Occupations Gains Steam in Senate
Imagine you are with your loved one who is in the hospital. Night comes. You prepare to leave, gently kissing your loved one “good night”.
Two Worlds Apart: The Capitol and the Great River Road
“Oh, my gosh,” I said to the Senate page. “I need that book.” The ‘book’ was a 744-page binder written by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) detailing, in plain language, the decisions in the massive state budget.
Problems Left for the Next Budget Writers
“Policy is who pays, who doesn’t pay and where the money gets spent,” said the President of the NAACP in a recent speech.
When “Up” is “Down”
A last-minute budget amendment has folks in Western Wisconsin very worried.
Wisconsin’s Long Journey toward a Living Wage
“For an adult with a family who has to pay for food, clothing, and a place to live, and be able to pay for a car, the minimum wage is clearly not high enough,” wrote Bethany of Eleva-Strum High School.
Where Are the People?
“This bill does not allow for public debate...is the public even aware? You’re not allowing the public to have adequate input into this issue,” testified Stephanie Bloomingdale.
Thank you, Wisconsin, for the Beautiful Gift
“Friends in the Wisconsin Legislature, we beg you: Sign that bad deal with Foxconn,” recently wrote the Chicago Sun Times editorial board. “It’s the neighborly thing to do.”
“Loving Us” Pow Wow Encourages Recovery
“I lost my granddaughter to heroin addiction,” Anita told me. “We’ve lost so many people,” Tena added.
Conversations at the County Fairs
I love county fairs. I love the sights, sounds, smells and the tastes of the fair. Moreover, I love all the people. Adorable little kids wander around with snow cones. Grandparents catch up on family news. Hardworking 4-Hers show cattle, cakes and cookies.
Foxconn: The Hype and the Small Print
...as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the Rest of the Story.”
Health Care: Steps Toward the Future
An older man contacted me recently with a problem. A visit to the doctor left him with thousands in unpaid bills. Medicare deemed the tests “routine” and not a “medical necessity.” But the gentleman was told, for his occupation, the tests were absolutely necessary.
Talk Is All Health Care at the Art Fair
“My father-in-law is losing his health insurance,” Pam told me. She stopped to chat as we perused the booths at the Stockholm Art Fair.
Seeking Solutions for State Road Budget
A tall man stopped me in the hall of the Capitol. “Can’t you just increase the gas tax?” he asked me. “I’m here to ask my Republican Senator to increase the gas tax. We need to fix the roads.”
Proposal Helps Veterans Become Farmers
“As far back as WWI connecting soldiers with nature and farming has been used to treat the invisible wounds of war,” Mr. Brian Sales recently told members of the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee.
Card Skimmer Bill Aimed at Stopping Gas Pump Scam
“Be careful when you fill up,” Linda warned me a few months ago. “There’s a new scam that captures your credit card information when you pay for your gas at the pump.”
Celebrating Wisconsin’s Dairyland
June is dairy month. A time to celebrate all we love about ‘America’s Dairyland’ – home to 1.28 million dairy cows, which is more than one cow for every five Wisconsinites.
Will Wisconsin’s Future Children Receive an Equal Education?
Openly, legislative leaders point to a lack of agreement on public education. They say no progress can happen until they round up necessary votes for the education portion of the budget. Privately, some GOP lawmakers are also angling to spend money on a big change to business personal property taxes. However, changes to taxes could take away money promised to schools.
What Choices Would You Make?
In the next few weeks, state lawmakers are voting on how Wisconsin spends money over the next two years. The choices legislators make will affect our communities and our lives.
Is There a “Good” Tax?
“Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said ninety years ago.
AUDIT: WEDC Cannot Be Certain of Any Jobs Created or Retained
Our state spends a great deal of money on economic development. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is responsible for overseeing much of the taxpayer money that goes to job creation.
Everyone Needs to Pay Their Fair Share
“Can anything be done to force the largest corporations in the state to pay something for the roads, ports, airports, fire and police services, educated workforce, etc. that they are using in our state?” Linea recently wrote to me. “This implies the smaller businesses are paying far more than their fair share.”
“REINS Act” – New Power for Leaders to Stop Public Protections
“This is the broadest, most dangerous bill you’ve never heard of.” I told my colleagues during a recent Senate debate. “It’s an obscure way to shut down government from doing something that the Legislature intended to do.”
Youth in Government Day Engages Teens
“Imagine you could make the laws. What would you change about how things are run?” My question to the students spurred a long discussion about change in our world.
High Capacity Well Proposal Makes Water Problems Worse
What if you woke up one morning turned on the faucet to wash your face and saw brown water coming out of your tap?
State Budget: Start with What’s Real
When it comes to paying the bills you’ve got to deal with what’s real. You can’t spend rhetoric.
Meth Addiction: the Growing Epidemic in our Neighborhood
“We are up to our gills in meth,” the county worker told me. “Four years ago one quarter of our child-protection cases were related to meth. Now, 92% of these cases are related to meth.”
Protect the Constitution from a Convention
What do the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the John Birch Society have in common? They all think legislation calling for a federal constitutional convention is a bad idea. A very bad idea.
Healthcare: What’s Next?
“Obamacare is the law of the land,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told the nation. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
Are Waters in Wisconsin Meeting Water Quality Standards?
“The bottom line is: Are waters meeting water quality standards?” George Meyer told the Audit Committee at a recent hearing.
Broadband Expansion: Rural Wisconsin Needs the Real Deal
According to the federal government’s most recent information, Wisconsin ranks last in the Midwest in both rural and urban broadband access with only 44% of rural folks accessing download speeds of 25 Mbps.
Don’t Get Rid of the Treasurer
A resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the role of state treasurer is likely to be finalized by the time you read this column. I will be voting “no” on the proposal to eliminate the office of state of treasurer and here’s why.
Audit Hearing Highlights Problems and Way Forward with Transportation
“Deputies are trying to figure out what caused a bridge on a rural road west of Arcadia to collapse.” The WEAU-TV story broke the same morning as a recent Legislative Audit Committee hearing on the State Highways Program.
Searching for the “Reform Dividend”
What is the “Reform Dividend” the Governor spoke about in his budget address? Where is it? How much is it? An inquiring mind wanted to know.
A Few Budget Details that Didn’t Make Headlines
Governor Walker recently released his two-year state budget. Amid much fanfare, he touted providing much needed money for schools, roads, and the UW. I went digging through budget documents released by the Governor. I knew there was more to the story.
School Funding: It’s about More than Money
“Public education in Wisconsin should provide high quality learning for ALL children no matter who they are or where they live,” Eau Claire School Board President Chris Hambuch-Boyle recently told me.
Who Has Been Watching Spending at DOT?
“Let me see how much you spent,” my mother said when I returned from the store. As the oldest of five children, I was often sent to the store to buy groceries. When I returned home, my mother checked the grocery bag, the receipt and counted the change.
Audits Raise Cautions about Pension Fund Management
“GOOD NEWS” read the text with a short article about how our pension funds grew 8.5%. My friend forwarded the article with a cryptic note, “apparently the lies keep working.”
School Visit to the “ARCTIC Zone” Prompts Thinking Anew about Education
Two six-graders recently showed me around their classrooms. Desks were not in straight rows. Students were not waiting their turn with raised hands. I looked around the room. There actually were no desks at all, but tables and different types of chairs.
New DNR Report: Who Should Pay to Protect and Encourage Fish and Wildlife?
Wisconsin is number one in hunting! Don’t take it from me. The Department of Natural Resources has studies to back it up.
What it is Like to be a New Legislator
“Good morning, Senator,” said a Capitol staffer. It took me a moment to realize the man was talking to me. That was ten years ago.